afrol News, 14 April - Yesterday an Egyptian appeals court in Damanhour, the capital of Al-Beheira province, found the so-called "Damanhour Five" not-guilty of all charges. The five men had been convicted 11 March of consensual homosexual conduct, and had been sentenced to three years' imprisonment and three years' probation.
The Damanhour trials come after a year in which brutal arrests, allegations of torture, and hard labour sentences and sensationalised trials of suspected homosexuals have become a regular occurrence in Egypt. The sudden attacks on homosexuals came surprisingly in a country that does not explicitly outlaw same-sex relations and indeed has long traditions for homosexual practices.
The Damanhour defendants themselves have not been released yet, according to reports. The five have been in jail since their arrest on 15 January this year. They were convicted 11 March of the "habitual practice of debauchery" [al-fujur] under Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961 - a provision commonly used in Egypt to penalise consensual homosexual behaviour, although this had not been used against homosexual practice before year 2001. The law was first used to sentence 23 men to one to five years of hard labour on 14 November of last year, in the "Queen Boat case", where police officer had raided a Cairo discotheque frequented by gay men.
All five men in the Damanhour case had confessed to homosexual acts under what they later claimed was torture, including beatings and electric shocks. The prosecutor alleged that they had been found "used" - passive partners in homosexual sex - by a medical examination.
The cases against alleged Egyptian homosexuals have been met by international outcry. In a reaction to yesterday's Damanhour verdict, Scott Long, Program Director at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) stated that his group was "gratified that the Egyptian government is beginning to recognise its human rights obligations. Unfortunately an unknown number of innocent people remain in prison because of their suspected homosexuality," he added. "We must continue the pressure until they are all released."
The international outrage against the attacks on homosexuals in Egypt has not been mirrored in Egypt. On the contrary, the Egyptian press has been scandalised by the alleged behaviour of the accused and has campaigned strongly against them. National human rights groups have not dared to defend these alleged gays, noting that the general outrage against gays in Egypt would subvert their credibility in addressing other pressing human rights violations.
Interestingly, homosexual practice is documented to be an institutionalised part of Egyptian human relations in pre-Islamic and throughout Islamic times, although being the "passive" part in sexual intercourse generally is plastered with taboos unless the individual is an adolescent. The "active" part is in no way perceived as homosexual and young boys - if they do not continue to be "passive" in adult life - neither are considered homosexuals.
Continuing to be "passive" in adult life - or even assuming a Western "gay" identity, a stated preference of same-sex relationship - is profoundly rejected in Egyptian society. The introduction of a Western "gay" identity and the emerging Cairo "gay scene" seems to be the background for the sudden criminal prosecution of homosexuals in Egypt initiated last year.
Sources: Based on IGLHRC, "Islamic Homosexualities" and afrol archives